On Obedience, Covenant-Keeping, the Word of Wisdom of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and the Ability to Participate in the Church’s Highest Ordinances
By Ken K. Gourdin
In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, observant and/or striving members are called upon to obey the Word of Wisdom, which enjoins the use of alcohol, tobacco, coffee, tea, harmful drugs, and prescription drugs in a manner contrary to their prescribed purposes. In a thread regarding obedience, on covenant-keeping, and on the effect on members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and their ability to participate fully in the Church’s highest ordinances (e.g., those who are not fully keeping covenants agreed to at baptism will be unable to participate in the Church’s highest ordinances, available in one of the Church’s 150 Temples), I commented as follows:
I haven’t been following the thread slavishly, so forgive me. I think the whole back-and-forth about coffee massively misses the point. Is God going to send someone to Hell for drinking coffee … coffee per se? coffee qua coffee? … No. Hell will be too full of liars, murderers, and others of that sort. On the other hand, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have already covenanted to keep the Word of Wisdom, simply by being baptized. Is God merciful? Yes. But where’s the mercy in saying, “Well, you’re not keeping this covenant you already made at baptism because of [fill-in-the-blank here, and it doesn’t have to involve coffee: it can involve any of the other promises made at baptism], but we’ll just ‘let that slide,’ and let you go make more covenants, the breaking of which (and you’re already breaking them, because you’re already not keeping at least one other covenant you have made at baptism) will subject you to even direr consequences, but, heck, we don’t want to be mean and keep you out of the Temple, so …”
Anybody who is an outsider, or who formerly was faithful but now is disaffected, of course, is not likely to understand that, and/or is not likely to attach the same importance to those covenants that a faithful or striving insider would. I won’t demand that such people accept the faithful paradigm. To each, his or her own. I’ll let God judge. But to be blunt, “It’s not the coffee, st***d, it’s the covenant.” If I’ve got to face God and answer for the choices I’ve made, I’d rather say, “Well, no. I wasn’t perfect keeping the covenants I made at baptism,” than, “Well, no, I wasn’t perfect keeping the covenants I made at baptism, but since my bishop, and/or my stake president, and/or I (or some combination of us) decided it would be ‘mean’ or ‘unfair’ to keep me out of the temple, I/we ‘fudged’ it, and I then made more covenants which I wasn’t prepared to keep and which I then broke (and for which the consequences of breaking them are even more serious) …”
Am I perfect? No, not by a long shot. In fact, one of my biggest current struggles is that my schedule has essentially kept me from being a fully participating member of my own ward for quite some time. I’ve made efforts to try to change that, but, so far, they haven’t borne fruit. I explained the situation to my home ward bishop when a temporary schedule change did permit me to go to my home ward, and I think he understands, but it might be a tough sell for me to try to renew a recommend since he hardly ever sees me. I’m puzzling over what to do about that. I know the first step is a simple phone call, but …
I had some things to say about covenant-keeping and obedience once:
Are there temporal [earthly] benefits [e.g., health benefits] for abstaining from the clearly harmful substances the Word of Wisdom proscribes? Yes. But the Word of Wisdom’s main benefits are spiritual: see Doctrine and Covenants 89:18-21. As I believe I said in one of the foregoing links, I don’t care if coffee is the very elixir of life itself, I have covenanted to not drink it, and I know I will be blessed for keeping that covenant.
When another poster, who clearly views matters of religious faith through a worldly, areligious paradigm, opined that he does not think God would impose any such arbitrary restrictions on what we take into our bodies (indeed, several other contributors to the thread expressed puzzlement at the Word of Wisdom’s prohibition on coffee, given coffee’s purported health benefits), I responded:
I can understand your perspective, and might well feel much the same way you do if I felt that a restriction or a covenant purporting to be from God were arbitrary, or if LDS leadership were acting of that leadership’s own accord rather than under God’s direction in mandating the requirement, or if LDS leadership did not have my best interests at heart. While I do believe that certain tangible, physical benefits accrue to me as a result of complying with those requirements, I believe the main benefits are spiritual in nature and, hence, more ethereal, more ephemeral, and perhaps more illusory, to someone who views the issue from your particular paradigm.
While this is simply an observation rather than a criticism (each of us sees the world as he is rather than as it is: obviously you have a different paradigm that works for you), as the Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14). And, as the Lord said through the Prophet Isaiah, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9).
With the caveat that such intake probably should occur in moderation, I don’t share a Jew’s or a Muslim’s view on the potential spiritual consequences of consuming pork products. Obviously, I am a Latter-day Saint because I believe that it’s the best thing going, religion-wise, and I hope I would be prepared to explain why I believe that to anyone who asks. However, even though I don’t share the perspective of an observant Jew or an observant Muslim with respect to the potential spiritual consequences of consuming pork, I believe one should be the best Jew, the best Muslim, or the best [fill-in-the-blank here] one can possibly be, and that God is as pleased with their sincere efforts to do what they believe He asks of them as he is with my sincere efforts to do that. And even if someone isn’t of a particularly religious bent, if he is determined to benefit the lives of his family, his friends, and his fellow human beings for as long as possible and to the greatest extent possible before (from his perspective) “succumbing to the void,” more power to him: “Inasmuch as men [men of whatever religious persuasion, or even of no particular religious persuasion whatsoever] do good, they shall in nowise lose their reward” (Doctrine & Covenants 56:26).
For more of my thoughts on religious inclusiveness, see here: